Ear-splitting explosions; bloody, whimpering and lifeless bodies strewn across the floor; demented terrorists killing with an insane cruelty; and a building held sacred now ruined and profaned.
It was a scene fit for Dante’s Inferno or a medieval painting of hell, but only the victims weren’t sinners. The people who came to Baghdad’s Our Lady of the Holy Salvation Church last Sunday evening had wanted to get closer to God, but instead were struck by the “hand of the devil.” And once more it was the followers of the Islamist death cult who formed the devil’s fist, their satanic blow costing this time more than 50 of the assembled worshipers their lives.
“They came to kill, kill, kill,” massacre survivor Bassam Sami told the New York Times after his narrow escape from death.
According to survivors, the Islamists stormed the church, firing their weapons, killing many of the 80 to 100 congregation members gathered there for the evening service. According to the Times report, one of the priests pleaded for his parishioners’ lives as he was pushed to the ground, grasping a crucifix, and murdered.
Some worshippers managed to make it to a room at the back of the church where they barricaded the door and prayed. But upon discovering their hiding place, the terrorists threw four grenades through a window into the room, killing several of the trapped and terrified victims.
“They seemed insane,” reported another survivor.
Part of their insanity is demonstrated by the fact the terrorists themselves wanted to die. Two of them were reported to have worn suicide vests, one of which was detonated when security forces attacked the church. When it was over, a further eight security personnel lay dead in and around the church along with all six Islamists.
The group that claimed responsibility for the savage violence, The Islamic State of Iraq, is an al Qaeda affiliate. The affiliation is the tragedy’s least surprising aspect, since wherever there is the smell of innocent, murdered corpses, al Qaeda can’t be far away.
In their statement issued after the attack, the terrorist group blamed their act of mass murder and destruction on Egypt’s Coptic Church for allegedly holding two women who had converted to Islam. Their other spurious excuse concerned the martyred Baghdad church itself. In the statement, it was called “…one of the filthy dens of idolatry that was always used by the Christians of Iraq to fight the religion of Islam and to support those who fight that religion.”
But the real reason for Sunday’s hellish bloodletting is that Islamist terrorists, as has often been noted, are death worshippers. Several have been quoted as saying that while we (in the West) love life, they love death. Former President George Bush even referred to one of these nihilistic messages in a speech he made in 2004, calling Islamist thinking “a mindset that rejoices in suicide, incites murder and celebrates every death we mourn.” Bush could have been speaking of the Iraqi church massacre.
Some believe this love of death was present even in Islam’s earliest days, such as in the message Caliph Abu Bakr sent to a Persian commander before a battle in 636 bears. It read: You should convert to Islam, and then you will be safe, for if you don’t, you should know that I have come to you with an army of men that love death as you love life.”
But Anna Geifman, a history professor of political violence specializing in pre-revolutionary Russia, sees something deeper in the Islamist death cult’s’ attacks rather than just motiveless and mindless atrocities, or “absurd violence”, as Pope Benedict called the church attack. In her book Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia, Geifman sees the terrorists’ main goal in attacking a target is to turn it into a “mini-replica of a concentration camp” and cites the Beslan school massacre as a prime example of such “ ‘carefully planned mass murder’.”
Islamist terrorists seized School Number 1 in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in 2004 during the first-day-of-school ceremony when many in attendance were of kindergarten age. More than 1,200 children and their relatives were held hostage under inhumane conditions in the school’s gym where they suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their captors, whose sadism may also have been fuelled by drugs.
The drama ended in incredible violence that cost 334 captives their lives, among them 186 children. The terrorists shot the hostages, some only five-years old, in the back as they tried to flee “ ‘as if they were targets in a shooting gallery’.”
“The ruins of the school, where hundreds of prisoners suffered from unbearable heat and dozens perished in flames, were not just the site of another terrorist act; they became ‘a symbol of mass homicide, akin to the chimneys of Auschwitz’,” Geifman writes.
Geifman’s analysis and description could also be applied to the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
In Beslan, Geifman believes the terrorists took “their sacrificial destruction to a new level.” By attacking a town like Beslan where everyone knew each other, all suffered death and bereavement, even if they didn’t lose a child. This in turn has created what psychologists call a “death space” or “zone” where everyone is grieving. But unlike Holocaust survivors who were also “affected for life”, the people of Beslan remain in their town among their dead. Since the tragedy, the locals call their town a “closed ‘infected sphere’ ” where it is like “living in a cemetery.”
Geifman writes such “zones of sadness” rose up after 9⁄11 “from Ground Zero into areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, as far as Staten Island and New Jersey.” But such massacres “do not stop the lives” of citizens in big cities like they would in Beslan or among Iraq’s small Christian community.
The other comparison between the tragedies that struck School Number One and Our Lady of the Holy Salvation Church is the terrorists attacked that which is held most sacred. In the case of Beslan, the Islamist death worshippers targeted and killed children, the most sacrosanct part of any community. The spiritual essence of Iraq’s Christians was also deeply violated by the killing of co-religionists in one of their holy places during a mass.
“We’ve lost part of our soul now,” said a 16-year-old Iraqi Christian of his dwindling community to the Times. “Our destiny, we don’t know what to say of it.”
It is no wonder Iraq’s Christians are unsure about their future when their enemy is consumed by such a bottomless hatred, he is even willing to destroy himself. But one thing is for sure, it is in the Islamists’ twisted souls where the real “dead zone” lies.
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